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Bunner and Carosone: from Unlikely Auburn to Unlikely NPF Champs

The Chicago Bandits defeated the USSSA Pride on Tuesday to capture back-to-back Cowles Cup titles as National Pro Fastpitch champions. It was a long road to victory for Chicago, a team few expected to win a championship this season.

Bandits teammates Angel Bunner and Emily Carosone know what it’s like to defy expectations.

They are two of the three former Auburn Tigers playing in NPF. Bunner, the winning pitcher in the Cowles Cup, played at Auburn at a time when the school’s softball program was largely an afterthought nationally. And although she was the first Tiger to be drafted, she wasn’t even on an NPF roster when this season began.

Carosone, a second baseman, was part of a generation of players that brought new life into the Auburn program.

Despite their different experiences, both Bunner and Carosone credited the college with helping them reach the professional level.

“I’m always going to be a Tiger,” Bunner said, “so I am always going to be proud of everything they do.”

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Bunner played all four years for coach Tina Deese. New coach Clint Myers took over for Carosone’s sophomore season, in 2014.

When changes started happening at Jane B. Moore Field, everyone noticed, including Bunner.

“I think a lot of the attitude changed for the girls,” she said. “I think that with Coach Deese, we still had the same girls but the dynamic of the team took a turn. Our talent was always there, but (Myers) kind of just changed the focus and attitude the players were striving for.”

Carosone saw improvement in her first season with Myers, and it was during her junior year that Auburn burst out of nowhere onto the softball scene. That year, the Tigers won their first Southeastern Conference championship and made it to the Women’s College World Series.

“Having that person who has been there gave us confidence,” Carosone said of Myers. “We were always learning and always looking for the best option. That’s what took above average players and made them great.”

Carosone also credited the senior leadership of Morgan Estell, Brandi Malero, and McKenzie Kilpatrick for convincing the underclassmen to buy in to the team’s mission and teaching the younger players how to be leaders.

When the players bought in to the Myers way, so did the fans. Literally. When Myers arrived on campus, softball was a non-ticketed sport, which means it was free for everyone. Three years later, softball is the third highest revenue generating sport on campus and season tickets are sold out.

“Coach did a good job marketing and made it a point for us to recognize our fans all the time. They are the reason why we are there,” Carosone said. “We feed off the fans when we have a full crowd at home. The fact that we were winning also helped too.”

From GameChanger and Maren Angus. Photo of Auburn's three NPF players, from left: Emily Carosone, Jade Rhodes and Angel Bunner.

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